Your several favors on the affairs of Geneva found me here, in the month of December last. It is now more than a year that I have withdrawn myself from public affairs, which I never liked in my life, but was drawn into by emergencies which threatened our country with slavery, but ended in establishing it free. I have returned, with infinite appetite, to the enjoyment of my farm, my family and my books, and had determined to meddle in nothing beyond their limits. Your proposition, however, for transplanting the college of Geneva to my own county, was too analogous to all my attachments to science, and freedom, the first-born daughter of science, not to excite a lively interest in my mind, and the essays which were necessary to try its practicability. This depended altogether on the opinions and dispositions of our State legislature, which was then in session. I immediately communicated your papers to a member of the legislature, whose abilities and zeal pointed him out as proper for it, urging him to sound as many of the leading members of the legislature as he could, and if he found their opinions favorable, to bring forward the proposition; but if he should find it desperate, not to hazard it ; because I thought it best not to commit the honor either of our State or of your college, by an useless act of eclat. It was not till within these three days that I have had an interview with him, and an account of his proceedings. He communicated the papers to a great number of the members, and discussed them maturely, but privately, with them. They were generally well-disposed to the proposition, and some of them warmly; however, there was no difference of opinion in the conclusion, that it could not be effected. The reasons which they thought would with certainty prevail against it, were 1, that our youth, not familiarized but with their mother tongue, were not prepared to receive instructions in any other ; 2, that the expense of the institution would excite uneasiness in their constituents, and endanger its permanence ; and 3, that its extent was disproportioned to the narrow state of the population with us. Whatever might be urged on these several subjects, yet as the decision rested with others, there remained to us only to regret that circumstances were such, or were thought to be such, as to disappoint your and our wishes. I should have seen with peculiar satisfaction the establishment of such a mass of science in my country, and should probably have been tempted to approach myself to it, by procuring a residence in its neighborhood, at those seasons of the year at least when the operations of agriculture are less active and interesting. I sincerely lament the circumstances which have suggested this emigration. I had hoped that Geneva was familiarized to such a degree of liberty, that they might without difficulty or danger fill up the measure to its maximum : a term, which, though in the insulated man, bounded only by his natural powers, must, in society, be so far restricted as to protect himself against the evil passions of his associates, and consequently, them against him.
I suspect that the doctrine, that small States alone are fitted to be republics, will be exploded by experience, with some other brilliant fallacies accredited by Montesquieu and other political writers. Perhaps it will be found, that to obtain a just republic (and it is to secure our just rights that we resort to government at all) it must be so extensive as that local egoisms may never reach its greater part; that on every particular question, a majority may be found in its councils free from particular interests, and giving, therefore, an uniform prevalence to the principles of justice. The smaller the societies, the more violent and more convulsive their schisms. We have chanced to live in an age which will probably be distinguished in history, for its experiments in government on a larger scale than has yet taken place. But we shall not live to see the result. The grosser absurdities, such as hereditary magistracies, we shall see exploded in our day, long experience having already pronounced condemnation against them. But what is to be the substitute ? This our children or grandchildren will answer. We may be satisfied with the certain knowledge that none can ever be tried, so stupid, so unrighteous, so oppressive, so destructive of every end for which honest men enter into government, as that which their forefathers had established, and their fathers alone venture to tumble headlong from the stations they have so long abused. It is unfortunate, that the efforts of mankind to recover the freedom of which they have been so long deprived, will be accompanied with violence, with errors, and even with crimes. But while we weep over the means, we must pray for the end.But I have been insensibly led by the general complexion of the times, from the particular case of Geneva, to those to which it bears no similitude. Of that we hope good things. Its inhabitants must be too much enlightened, too well experienced in the blessings of freedom and undisturbed industry, to tolerate long a contrary state of things. I should be happy to hear that their government perfects itself, and leaves room for the honest, the industrious and wise ; in which case, your own talents, and those of the persons for whom you have interested yourself, will, I am sure, find welcome and distinction. My good wishes will always attend you, as a consequence of the esteem and regard with which I am, dear Sir, your most obedient, and most humble servant.
Your letter of March the 23d came to hand the 7th of April, and notwithstanding the urgent reasons for answering a part of it immediately, yet as it mentioned that you would leave Philadelphia within a few days, I feared that the answer might pass you on the road. A letter from Philadelphia by the last post having announced to me your leaving that place the day preceding its date, I am in hopes this will find you in Orange. In mine, to which yours of March the 23d was an answer, I expressed my hope of the only change of position I ever wished to see you make, and I expressed it with entire sincerity, because there is not another person in the United States, who being placed at the helm of our affairs, my mind would be so completely at rest for the fortune of our political bark. The wish, too, was pure, and unmixed with anything respecting myself personally. For as to myself, the subject had been thoroughly weighed and decided on, and my retirement from office had been meant from all office high or low, without exception. I can say, too, with truth, that the subject had not been presented to my mind by any vanity of my own. I know myself and my fellow-citizens too well to have ever thought of it. But the idea was forced upon me by continual insinuations in the public papers, while I was in office. As all these came from a hostile quarter, I knew that their object was to poison the public mind as to my motives, when they were not able to charge me with facts. But the idea being once presented to me, my own quiet required that I should face it and examine it. I did so thoroughly, and had no difficulty to see that every reason which had determined me to retire from the office I then held, operated more strongly against that which was insinuated to be my object. I decided then on those general grounds which could alone be present to my mind at the time, that is to say, reputation, tranquillity, labor; for as to public duty, it could not be a topic of consideration in my case. If these general considerations were sufficient to ground a firm resolution never to permit myself to think of the office, or to be thought of for it, the special ones which have supervened on my retirement, still more insuperably bar the door to it.
My health is entirely broken down within the last eight months; my age requires that I should place my affairs in a clear state; these are sound if taken care of, but capable of considerable dangers if longer neglected; and above all things, the delights I feel in the society of my family, and in the agricultural pursuits in which I am so eagerly engaged. The little spice of ambition which I had in my younger days has long since evaporated, and I set still less store by a posthumous than present name. In stating to you the heads of reasons which have produced my determination, I do not mean an opening for future discussion, or that I may be reasoned out of it. The question is forever closed with me; my sole object is to avail myself of the first opening ever given me from a friendly quarter (and I could not with decency do it before), of preventing any division or loss of votes, which might be fatal to the republican interest. If that has any chance of prevailing, it must be by avoiding the loss of a single vote, and by concentrating all its strength on one object. Who this should be, is a question I can more freely discuss with anybody than yourself. In this I painfully feel the loss of Monroe. Had he been here, I should have been at no loss for a channel through which to make myself understood; if I have been misunderstood by anybody through the instrumentality of Mr. Fenno and his abettors.
I long to see you. I am proceeding in my agricultural plans with a slow but sure step. To get under full way will require four or five years. But patience and perseverance will accomplish it. My little essay in red clover, the last year, has had the most encouraging success. I sowed then about forty acres. I have sowed this year about one hundred and twenty, which the rain now falling comes very opportunely on. From one hundred and sixty to two hundred acres, will be my yearly sowing. The seed-box described in the agricultural transactions of New York, reduces the expense of seeding from six shillings to two shillings and three pence the acre, and does the business better than is possible to be done by the human hand. May we hope a visit from you ? If we may, let it be after the middle of May, by which time I hope to be returned from Bedford. I have had a proposition to meet Mr. Henry there this month, to confer on the subject of a convention, to the calling of which he is now become a convert. The session of our district court furnished me a just excuse for the time; but the impropriety of my entering into consultation on a measure in which I would take no part, is a permanent one.
Present my most respectful compliments to Mrs. Madison, and be assured of the warm attachment of, dear Sir, yours affectionately.
Your favor of the 16th came to hand by the last post. I have to thank you for the trouble you were so kind as to take in my demand on Mr. Bannisters estate. Mr. Shippen by letter promised me paiment out of the first proceeds of a sale then making at Hatchers run on twelve-months credit. I sincerely congratulate you on the great prosperities of our two first allies, the French and Dutch. If I could but see them now at peace with the rest of their continent, I should have little doubt of dining with Pichegru in London, next autumn; for I believe I should be tempted to leave my clover for awhile, to go and hail the dawn of liberty and republicanism in that island. I shall be rendered very happy by the visit you promise me. The only thing wanting to make me completely so, is the more frequent society of my friends. It is the more wanting, as I am become more firmly fixed to the globe. If you visit me as a farmer, it must be as a condisciple : for I am but a learner; an eager one indeed, but yet desperate, being too old now to learn a new art. However, I am as much delighted and occupied with it, as if I was the greatest adept. I shall talk with you about it from morning till night, and put you on very short allowance as to political aliment. Now and then a pious ejaculation for the French and Dutch republicans, returning with due despatch to clover, potatoes, wheat, etc. That I may not lose the pleasure promised me, let it not be till the middle of May, by which time I shall be returned from a trip I meditate to Bedford. Yours affectionately.
It was not in my power to attend at Fredericksburg according to the kind invitation in your letter, and in that of Mr. Ogilvie. The heat of the weather, the business of the farm, to which I have made myself necessary, forbade it; and to give one round reason for all, mature sanus, I have laid up my Rosinante in his stall, before his unfitness for the road shall expose him faultering to the world. But why did not I answer you in time ? Because, in truth, I am encouraging myself to grow lazy, and I was sure you would ascribe the delay to anything sooner than a want of affection or respect to you, for this was not among the possible causes. In truth, if anything could ever induce me to sleep another night out of my own house, it would have been your friendly invitation and my solicitude for the subject of it, the education of our youth. I do most anxiously wish to see the highest degrees of education given to the higher degrees of genius, and to all degrees of it, so much as may enable them to read and understand what is going on in the world, and to keep their part of it going on right : for nothing can keep it right but their own vigilant and distrustful superintendence. I do not believe with the Rochefoucaults and Montaignes, that fourteen out of fifteen men are rogues : I believe a great abatement from that proportion may be made in favor of general honesty. But I have always found that rogues would be uppermost, and I do not know that the proportion is too strong for the higher orders, and for those who, rising above the swinish multitude, always contrive to nestle themselves into the places of power and profit. These rogues set out with stealing the peoples good opinion, and then steal from them the right of withdrawing it, by contriving laws and associations against the power of the people themselves. Our part of the country is in considerable fermentation, on what they suspect to be a recent roguery of this kind. They say that while all hands were below deck mending sails, splicing ropes, and every one at his own business, and the captain in his cabin attending to his log book and chart, a rogue of a pilot has run them into an enemys port.But metaphor apart, there is much dissatisfaction with Mr. Jay and his treaty. For my part, I consider myself now but as a passenger, leaving the world and its government to those who are likely to live longer in it. That you may be among the longest of these, is my sincere prayer. After begging you to be the bearer of my compliments and apologies to Mr. Ogilvie, I bid you an affectionate farewell, always wishing to hear from you.
I ought much sooner to have acknowledged your obliging attention in sending me a copy of the treaty. It was the first we received in this part of the country. Though I have interdicted myself all serious attention to political matters, yet a very slight notice of that in question sufficed to decide my mind against it. I am not satisfied we should not be better without treaties with any nation. But I am satisfied we should be better without such as this. The public dissatisfaction too and dissention it is likely to produce, are serious evils. I am not without hope that the operations on the 12th article may render a recurrence to the Senate yet necessary, and so give to the majority an opportunity of correcting the error into which their exclusion of public light has led them. I hope also that the recent results of the English will at length awaken in our Executive that sense of public honor and spirit, which they have not lost sight of in their proceedings with other nations, and will establish the eternal truth that acquiescence under insult is not the way to escape war. I am with great esteem, dear Sir, your most obedient humble servant.
I received about three weeks ago, a box containing six dozen volumes, of two hundred and eighty-three pages, 12 mo, with a letter from Lambert, Beckleys clerk, that they came from Mr. Beckley and were to be divided between yourself, J. Walker, and myself. I have sent two dozen to J. Walker, and shall be glad of a conveyance for yours. In the meantime, I send you by post, the title page, table of contents, and one of the pieces, Curtius, lest it should not have come to you otherwise. It is evidently written by Hamilton, giving a first and general view of the subject, that the public mind might be kept a little in check, till he could resume the subject more at large from the beginning, under his second signature of Camillus. The piece called The Features of the Treaty, I do not send, because you have seen it in the newspapers. It is said to be written by Coxe, but I should rather suspect, by Beckley. The antidote is certainly not strong enough for the poison of Curtius. If I had not been informed the present came from Beckley, I should have suspected it from Jay or Hamilton. I gave a copy or two, by way of experiment, to honest, soundhearted men of common understanding, and they were not able to parry the sophistry of Curtius. I have ceased therefore, to give them. Hamilton is really a colossus to the anti-republican party. Without numbers, he is an host within himself. They have got themselves into a defile, where they might be finished; but too much security on the republican part will give time to his talents and indefatigableness to extricate them. We have had only middling performances to oppose to him. In truth, when he comes forward, there is nobody but yourself who can meet him. His adversaries having begun the attack, he has the advantage of answering them, and remains unanswered himself. A solid reply might yet completely demolish what was too feebly attacked, and has gathered strength from the weakness of the attack. The merchants were certainly (except those of them who are English) as open mouthed at first against the treaty, as any. But the general expression of indignation has alarmed them for the strength of the government. They have feared the shock would be too great, and have chosen to tack about and support both treaty and government, rather than risk the government. Thus it is, that Hamilton, Jay, etc., in the boldest act they ever ventured on to undermine the government, have the address to screen themselves, and direct the hue and cry against those who wish to drag them into light. A bolder party-stroke was never struck. For it certainly is an attempt of a party, who find they have lost their majority in one branch of the Legislature, to make a law by the aid of the other branch and of the executive, under color of a treaty, which shall bind up the hands of the adverse branch from ever restraining the commerce of their patron-nation. There appears a pause at present in the public sentiment, which may be followed by a revulsion. This is the effect of the desertion of the merchants, of the Presidents chiding answer to Boston and Richmond, of the writings of Curtius and Camillus, and of the quietism into which people naturally fall after first sensations are over. For Gods sake take up your pen, and give a fundamental reply to Curtius and Camillus.
Mr. Randolph and my daughter will be back from the springs in the ensuing week. He is almost entirely recovered by the use of the sweet springs. I expect the execution of your promise to bring Mrs. Madison to see us, with whom we should be all glad to get acquainted. I would have been with you before this, but that I have had almost constant threat of rheumatism so obstinately fixed in its seat as to render it imprudent for me to move much. Adieu affectionately.
I received with pleasure your letter of the 9th ult., by post, but should with greater pleasure have received it from your own hand, that I might have had an opportunity of testifying to you in person the great respect I bear for your character, which had come to us before you, and of expressing my obligations to Professor Pictet, for procuring me the honor of your acquaintance. It would have been a circumstance of still higher satisfaction and advantage to me, if fortune had timed the periods of our service together, so that the drudgery of public business, which I always hated, might have been relieved by conversations with you on subjects which I always loved, and particularly in learning from you the new advances of science on the other side of the Atlantic. The interests of our two republics also could not but have been promoted by the harmony of their servants. Two people whose interests, whose principles, whose habits of attachment, founded on fellowship in war and mutual kindnesses, have so many points of union, cannot but be easily kept together. I hope you have accordingly been sensible, Sir, of the general interest which my countrymen take in all the successes of your republic. In this no one joins with more enthusiasm than myself, an enthusiasm kindled by our love of liberty, by my gratitude to your nation who helped us to acquire it, by my wishes to see it extended to all men, and first to those whom we love most. I am now a private man, free to express my feelings, and their expression will be estimated at neither more or less than they weigh, to wit, the expressions of a private man. Your struggles for liberty keep alive the only sparks of sensation which public affairs now excite in me. As to the concerns of my own country, I leave them willingly and safely to those who will have a longer interest in cherishing them. My books, my family, my friends, and my farm, furnish more than enough to occupy me the remainder of my life, and of that tranquil occupation most analogous to my physical and moral constitution. The correspondence you are pleased to invite me to on the natural history of my country, cannot but be profitable and acceptable to me. My long absence from it, indeed, has deprived me of the means of throwing any new lights on it; but I shall have the benefit of participating of your views of it, and occasions of expressing to you those sentiments of esteem and respect with which I have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedient, and most humble servant.
I received your favor of October the 12th by your son, who has been kind enough to visit me here, and from whose visit I have received all that pleasure which I do from whatever comes from you, and especially from a subject so deservedly dear to you. He found me in a retirement I dote on, living like an antediluvian patriarch among my children and grandchildren, and tilling my soil. As he had lately come from Philadelphia, Boston, etc., he was able to give me a great deal of information of what is passing in the world, and I pestered him with questions pretty much as our friends Lynch, Nelson, etc., will us, when we step across the Styx, for they will wish to know what has been passing above ground since they left us. You hope I have not abandoned entirely the service of our country. After five and twenty years continual employment in it, I trust it will be thought I have fulfilled my tour, like a punctual soldier, and may claim my discharge. But I am glad of the sentiment from you, my friend, because it gives a hope you will practice what you preach, and come forward in aid of the public vessel. I will not admit your old excuse, that you are in public service though at home. The campaigns which are fought in a mans own house are not to be counted. The present situation of the President, unable to get the offices filled, really calls with uncommon obligation on those whom nature has fitted for them. I join with you in thinking the treaty an execrable thing. But both negotiators must have understood, that, as there were articles in it which could not be carried into execution without the aid of the Legislatures on both sides, therefore it must be referred to them, and that these Legislatures being free agents, would not give it their support if they disapproved of it. I trust the popular branch of our Legislature will disapprove of it, and thus rid us of this infamous act, which is really nothing more than a treaty of alliance between England and the Anglomen of this country, against the Legislature and people of the United States.I told your son I had long had it in contemplation to write to you for a half a dozen sour orange trees, of a proper size for small boxes, as they abound with you. The only trouble they would give be the putting them into boxes long enough before sending them for them to take root, and when rooted to put them into some vessel coming direct to Richmond to the care of Mr. Daniel Hylton there. Your son is kind enough to undertake the commission. With constant and unchanged affection I am, my dear friend, yours affectionately.
Your favors of December the 15th and 20th came to hand by the last post. I am well pleased with the manner in which your House have testified their sense of the treaty ; while their refusal to pass the original clause of the reported answer proved their condemnation of it, the contrivance to let it disappear silently respected appearances in favor of the President, who errs as other men do, but errs with integrity. Randolph seems to have hit upon the true theory of our Constitution; that when a treaty is made, involving matters confided by the Constitution to the three branches of the Legislature conjointly, the Representatives are as free as the President and Senate were, to consider whether the national interest requires or forbids their giving the forms and force of law to the articles over which they have a power.I thank you much for the pamphlet. His narrative is so straight and plain, that even those who did not know him will acquit him of the charge of bribery. Those who knew him had done it from the first. Though he mistakes his own political character in the aggregate, yet he gives it to you in the detail. Thus, he supposes himself a man of no party (page 97); that his opinions not containing any systematic adherence to party, fell sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other (page 58). Yet he gives you these facts, which show that they fall generally on both sides, and are complete inconsistencies.
1. He never gave an opinion in the cabinet against the rights of the people (page 97); yet he advised the denunciation of the popular societies (page 67 ).
2. He would not neglect the overtures of a commercial treaty with France (page 79); yet he always opposed it while Attorney General, and never seems to have proposed it while Secretary of State.
3. He concurs in resorting to the militia to quell the pretended insurrections in the west (page 81), and proposes an augmentation from twelve thousand five hundred to fifteen thousand, to march against men at their ploughs (page 80); yet on the 5th of August he is against their marching (pages 83, 101 ), and on the a 5th of August he is for it (page 84).
4. He concurs in the measure of a mission extraordinary to London (as is inferred from page 58), but objects to the men, to wit, Hamilton and Jay (page 58)
5. He was against granting commercial powers to Mr. Jay (page 58); yet he besieged the doors of the Senate to procure their advice to ratify.
6. He advises the President to a ratification on the merits of the treaty (page 97), but to a suspension till the provision order is repealed (page 98).
The fact is, that he has generally given his principles to the one party, and his practice to the other, the oyster to one, the shell to the other. Unfortunately, the shell was generally the lot of his friends, the French and republicans, and the oyster of their antagonists. Had he been firm to the principles he professes in the year 1793, the President would have been kept from an habitual concert with the British and anti-republican party. But at that time, I do not know which R. feared most, a British fleet, or French disorganizers. Whether his conduct is to be ascribed to a superior view of things, an adherence to right without regard to party, as he pretends, or to an anxiety to trim between both, those who know his character and capacity will decide. Were parties here divided merely by a greediness for office, as in England, to take a part with either would be unworthy of a reasonable or moral man. But where the principle of difference is as substantial, and as strongly pronounced as between the republicans and the monocrats of our country, I hold it as honorable to take a firm and decided part, and as immoral to pursue a middle line, as between the parties of honest men and rogues, into which every country is divided.
A copy of the pamphlet came by this post to Charlottesville. I suppose we shall be able to judge soon what kind of impression it is likely to make. It has been a great treat to me, as it is a continuation of that cabinet history, with the former part of which I was intimate. I remark, in the reply of the President, a small travesty of the sentiment contained in the answer of the Representatives. They acknowledge that he has contributed a great share to the national happiness by his services. He thanks them for ascribing to his agency a great share of those benefits. The former keeps in view the co-operation of others towards the public good. The latter presents to view his sole agency. At a time when there would have been less anxiety to publish to the people a strong approbation from your House, this strengthening of your expression would not have been noticed.
Our attentions have been so absorbed by the first manifestation of the sentiments of your House, that we have lost sight of our own Legislature ; insomuch, that I do not know whether they are sitting or not. The rejection of Mr. Rutledge by the Senate is a bold thing; because they cannot pretend any objection to him but his disapprobation of the treaty. It is, of course, a declaration that they will receive none but tories hereafter into any department of the government. I should not wonder if Monroe were to be re-called, under the idea of his being of the partisans of France, whom the President considers as the partisans of war and confusion, in his letter of July the 31st, and as disposed to excite them to hostile measures, or at least to unfriendly sentiments; a most infatuated blindness to the true character of the sentiments entertained in favor of France.The bottom of my page warns me that it is time to end my commentaries on the facts you have furnished me. You would of course, however, wish to know the sensations here on those facts.
My friendly respects to Mr. Madison, to whom the next weeks dose will be directed. Adieu affectionately.